The Mouse and I in our first show ring debut at Run O’ the Mill in May of 2010. As you might extrapolate from the picture, it took more than one try to get over that jump.
“Thank you, rider. You are excused.”
Words that every equestrian dreads. It means that your horse acted poorly enough in the show ring – stopping at a jump 3 times while attempting to complete the entire course – and you are no longer eligible to compete in that particular class. It is fair, they give you adequate opportunity to correct your horse if it is being naughty but don’t allow for you to hold up the show for others.
And I’m pretty sure that I’ve only heard that sentence twice in my life. On the same horse. At his very first and very last horse shows.
My beloved Mouse was a magical gift in my life most days, but also a source of bewilderment and frustration from time to time. Much of the angst stemmed from his paralyzing fears of such horse-eating menaces like poles on the ground, shadows, trailers, being alone in the aisle, puddles, roll tops… well, let’s just say that he came a long way in the time I owned him! And while sometimes he would push me nearly to the breaking point, I loved that horse (and still do) with every single cell in my body.
But I’m not emotionally ready to tell you all why he was so important to me quite yet. Likely you know instinctively already. What I do want to tell you about are his very first and very last horse shows of his life – the only two times in my riding career that I can recall being officially excused from a class.
During the Summer of 2010 I was bound and determined to show my little 14.3h paint with no spots on the local circuit in Wisconsin. I wasn’t sure how I would pay for it, as local shows now cost the equivalent of a rated show back in the day, but I figured I could use my skills as a braider and be thrifty with my other expenses. (Yeah, yeah mom… I know you think that’s the funniest thing you’ve ever read – me, thrifty! My idea of thrifty is to only buy one baby pad versus three at the tack store.)
Our first horse show, my first time back in the show ring after a 10+ year hiatus, was to be Run O’ the Mill, always the opening show of the local Wisconsin Hunter Jumper Association season, always right before or right on my birthday. And let me tell you, I was PSYCHED!!!
I’m pretty sure that I started planning and packing for the show on the first day of May. I made lists again and again of what I would need to bring – from shipping wraps to standing wraps to all my show clothes and that I needed to get purple yarn for the good luck 7th braid in each mane. I planned and wrote down what I would wear to ship to the show, what saddle pad and boots would coordinate with which belt and shirt for schooling on Friday and then a whole separate outfit for Saturday morning. Which sheets and anti-sweats and coolers I should bring. It was exhilarating and exhausting. And yes, very neurotic.
(Side note – as Jorge and I prepare for our first horse show this weekend, I should admit I’ve been packed for at least two weeks and our schooling outfit will consist of… oh, never mind!)
Honestly, I didn’t have high expectations for the show. I mean, c’mon, an extra-large pony, a glorified quarter horse competing against sleek thoroughbreds and fancy warmbloods, I knew what I had and was just happy to be there. The Mouse may not have been a high priced show horse but he was mine and he had brought me back to this sport I loved so much. I truly didn’t care if we won a single ribbon, but I did want to get around the course. Eventually.
Schooling went okay on Friday afternoon. He was overwhelmed by the activity and a bit concerned that the green Astroturf boxes were housing trolls that could potentially bite his legs off. But we ended on a good note and I was more excited than ever to walk in to the ring the next morning and hear, “Now on course number 827, Between the Buoys ridden by Jorna Taylor.”
I went home to sleep for a few hours Friday night and came back to the show grounds around 11:30p. I was braiding 6 horses each night to help pay for the show. The most peaceful and tranquil place in the world is in the barn at a horse show during the wee hours of the night. If you’ve never had this experience I highly recommend it. Indescribable.
Finally, it was show time. The Mouse and I were competing in the most elementary classes for horses new to showing, the Baby Green Hunters at 2’3”. Some might find it ironic that I was showing a 12 year old horse in the “baby” classes, but we were eligible and frankly, 2’3” was about as high as he was comfortable jumping. We got all dressed up in our finest, and I must say, we looked pretty damn good, holding our own next to our more statuesque competitors!
I went in for my warm-up round, more excited than nervous, and heard our names across the loudspeaker as we made our turn toward the first jump.
Success! We flew over the first single jump on the diagonal with no problem, though I could feel his entire body tense with anticipation of what was to come. We made the turn to the next line, squiggled to the first piece of a diagonal line (one of those scary green boxes) and made it to the other side. Cantered down the line and that’s when it happened – he stopped. Okay, fine, our first show, pat him on the neck and try again. I made a half circle, aimed at the jump – nope. I kicked him a little, and tried one more time. No go.
That’s when I heard those dreaded words – “Thank you, rider. You are excused.”
What? I couldn’t recall that ever happening before in my life! But I laughed it off, stayed in the ring for my next two rounds and by our third attempt to complete the course without a refusal, we had made it all the way around without issue.
I was so incredibly proud of my horse. You might think I would have been angry, disappointed, or embarrassed but instead I only felt pride for what he and I had accomplished – getting in to the show ring and not completely making fools of ourselves. Mission accomplished.
He proceeded to get better and better at each and every show we went to that summer and beyond. At our last jumping show (a local schooling show) he won two of four classes, coming in second in the others.
But that wasn’t our last horse show together. Right before I moved to Virginia my friends and I had a last blast at an “Open Show” at the Washington County Fairgrounds. An open show has no jumping and features English, Western and some other styles of riding I can only describe as adventurous. The classes are cheap at 5 bucks a pop and it is close to the barns where we boarded. The best part about the Friday shows is that they start after work and you show under the lights in the main ring sometimes until midnight.
Some classes host upwards of 20+ horses in the ring at a time as an “open” event, others are broken down by age. I feel obliged to tell you that I am deemed a “Senior Senior” at these events, for those over age 30. Lame. Our first class was one of these old fogeys events, competing against two other women from my barn – Jude & Denise – and one lady who used to board with us previously. I came in 3rd of 4, and really only due to Denise’s mare Cheyenne having a minor meltdown because it was her first horse show ever. The Mouse was being a total puke, tense, head all the way up in the air and on the verge of an outburst of some kind.
I figured it was because there were so few horses in the ring, he hates being alone and that our next class, a walk/trot open division with those 20+ entries, would go much smoother. Oh boy was I wrong!
I also need to point out that at these open shows not everyone has the greatest command over their steed. There is an element of danger in the air whenever you step foot in to the ring, not knowing who can steer their horse properly or what kind of ring etiquette they were taught. Usually I can keep myself out of trouble, having years of self preservation under my belt, but you can’t account for every instance, apparently.
The Mouse was really tense and by the second direction there had been multiple episodes of horses losing it in the corners or down the long side of the ring. He was coiled and ready to blow but hadn’t yet until two young riders squeezed him on both sides from behind. The Mouse wasn’t having any of that, threw up his head and sort of bounced for a few strides – nothing dangerous, I was completely in control of him the entire time. However, the judge saw this and demanded I bring my horse into the center of the ring.
WHAT? I was LIVID! And not at my horse, but at the judge. I immediately shot back, “why?” and he replied, “because I told you to!” There were far far worse cases of being out of control than my horse bouncing a bit in such a large class yet I was the one who was excused. I was seething, absolutely blind with rage.
My Mouse, however, was incredibly pleased with himself! He stood in the middle as the class continued with his head held high, ears forward and an expression of sheer joy on his face. I sat atop him with my hand on my hip and shot daggers at the judge, daring him to say a word to me.
When the class had finished, the judge and I exchanged words. I angrily thanked him for teaching my horse that you were rewarded when you started acting up a bit by being allowed to stop working. The judge retorted that I was potentially going to become a danger to others… back and forth we went at each other. Some might say it took some brass cajones to yell at a judge. Others might say that I was justified. In the end it doesn’t really matter, I decided to call it quits for the rest of the night and just cheer on my friends so there wasn’t a repeat and it became habit.
I forgave The Mouse immediately. It was always impossible to stay mad at him, he was so damn cute and just acting out of his irrational fear of life.
What I know is this. I may have been excused from the show ring twice in my life but I’ve got The Mouse to thank for teaching me to laugh it off and appreciate that I could even be back in the ring in the first place. He was more than just another horse to me, he was a teacher, a student, a confidant, a shoulder to cry on, a comfort, a joy, and my very best friend. All wrapped up in 14.3 hands of stubbornness and love.
I am so glad that I could have these experiences, and so many more, with this amazing light that was all too brief in my life.
At the Washington County Open Show after we were called in to the center of the ring. Look how pleased he is and how angry I am.